Walking Eye interviews me

Started by Ron Edwards, February 16, 2010, 04:50:40 PM

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Ron Edwards

Kevin Weiser interviewed me at the excellent game store Chicagoland Games, The Dice Dojo here in Chicago. It's the usual marathon, hours-and-hours thing that my interviews tend to become.

These are the links: Part One and Part Two. All comments and discussions are welcome!

There are a few things I'd like to follow up on myself. I don't think I managed to conclude my point about feminism and Trollbabe in Part One, and his deal about Scientology and the Last Supper in Part Two was so weird that I was basically stricken dumb and didn't manage to respond as I would like. So more about that for sure, but also, anything anyone wants to ask or talk about, please feel free.

Best, Ron

editing this in: Here's a nice Cheech Wizard pic illustrating the point I make at the end of Part 2. also: edited to fix a link.

Ron Edwards

Ooo! Jesse Burneko just busted out a major interview too: Canon Puncture 85 - Game Advocates, pitching for Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword.

It's especially nice to listen to that, having been the point-man for Jesse's grappling with the game roughly 2001-2006. I should probably stop busting your chops about that, now ...

Best, Ron


The Walking Eye made me wince a little here and there and drove me kind of crazy in other places.

I'm trying to figure out how to put my discomfort to words in a way that is a well meaning critique, rather than some kind of lame internet rant.

Let me figure that out for a spell.

Ron Edwards

Go ahead and get tequila on us, Judd. I'll take it in stride.

Best, Ron



I wanted to communicate with Kevin before I started spilling tequila all over the place.  I exchanged some e-mails with him and it was a nice communication.

I wanted Kevin to stand up and have more to say.  It sounded as if he was intimidated by you and that he had no opinions of his own.  There were a few moments where he'd start to step up, maybe disagree or offer some kind of opinion and you'd firmly state your opinion and he'd back right down again.  It was frustrating to listen to, even as much of the content was really nifty and  enjoyable.

The Forge, to my mind, has done a whole lot to smash and destroy  the idea that the game designer needs to be put on a pedestal above the gamer.  The way Kevin treated you was so tentative.  I wanted a conversation between two gamers, rather than what I did hear, which was him tentatively setting the ball in the air and you spiking it as soon as it came over the net.

Of course it slipped out that he thought the Forge was like a cult.  He was treating you like a cult leader, like someone whose words are gospel and your ideas are much more interesting when they are either challenged or considered in light of other people's gaming experience (like his).

It might sound like I am saying, "Less Ron and more Kevin!" but that is not so.  What i am trying to say is, "More Kevin and through that, Ron's ideas about gaming are even more interesting."

I kept saying to the screen, "Just talk to Ron, Kevin.  He's just a dude who loves gaming!" 

Hope that makes some kind of sense.




I actually had 3 hours to sit down and spend any way I wanted yesterday afternoon (snow day in my area of the country).  I really enjoyed listening to the podcast.  I'd like to talk to you about a small part of it.

About things like imagery of the dragon and character birth being important to Gamists that you mentioned in part 2:  I have experience in this and I'd like to see if yours is similar to mine.  I've found that that in order for that stuff to matter it has to be tied to the Resolution or to the Rewards system for Gamists to really care about it.  But not just the system as in the mechanics printed in the game books, but System as in how we decide what happens during play.  Let me give a couple of examples to back up my point.

For instance #1- I played a lot of RoleMaster and MERP in my early days.  One of the elements of the character sheet was a Demeanor.  One of my fellow players put "Charming" on his.  Later, he negotiated with the GM to use his Demeanor to get a barmaid to get him some time with her friend the retired adventurer.  This was in lieu of some kind of influence roll using the typical resolution system.

For instance #2- Writing up a backstory for your character is a long held tradition in RPGs.  But other than games like The Pool, it hardly ever comes up in play.  However, there can still be rewards for doing it.  I've played in groups where we begin by comparing backstories prior to play.  It's every bit a competition to see who hears, "Dude, nice story!" the most as it is to see who can pull off the coolest stunts during combat. This is a social esteem reward which is what Gamists are after most in the first place.

I don't think that the imagery and backstory/birth of a character stuff matters as much to Gamists in other sub-systems of a game.  For instance, in Chargen, imagery and history can certainly be part of a game's mechanics, but if there's no competition there for social esteem or those elements of the character never matter when it comes to the Gamble or Crunch, then they will most likely be glossed over or even discarded altogether once the players become familiar with how the game works.  In combat sub-systems, if a bastard sword and a claymore deal the same amount of damage, have the same initiative modifier, use the same skill, and cost about the same amount of gold, which one the character is using become irrelevant unless there is some Reward (social or mechanical) for doing so.  At least, that's my experience.

Is yours about the same?  Would you agree that the Rewards and/or Resolution Systems are what are prioritized most by Gamists when it comes to the medium of roleplaying?  Am I using that correctly? :)



Ron Edwards


I'll respond to Troy first 'cause it's easier. My answer is "yes" ... but that it's incorrect to ascribe this connection you're describing as a feature of Gamist play specifically. I suggest that it's a feature of all functioning play, and that historically, Gamist play has typically been more successful/functional in the long run than any other sort. So historically, you're correct, not because Gamist-oriented groups have a special feature (Color + Reward), but because the other groups typically haven't been able to get their Big Model engine running very well over the long haul (either of a group or a person). When I say "typically" I don't mean "never ever," though - there are some exceptions.

Remember, I see Resolution as a subset of Reward in the first place, which might help explain my extremely broad claim above ("all").

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on February 18, 2010, 03:19:48 PM

I'll respond to Troy first 'cause it's easier. My answer is "yes" ... but that it's incorrect to ascribe this connection you're describing as a feature of Gamist play specifically. I suggest that it's a feature of all functioning play, and that historically, Gamist play has typically been more successful/functional in the long run than any other sort. So historically, you're correct, not because Gamist-oriented groups have a special feature (Color + Reward), but because the other groups typically haven't been able to get their Big Model engine running very well over the long haul (either of a group or a person).

Yeah, I was just trying to build off what you said in part 2 Gamists.  I didn't mean to imply that it was exclusive to Gamists.  I just wanted to make sure my thinking was correct.  This was a big stepping stone for me and my understanding of how RPGs work.  So I'm glad I got a chance to listen.




I want to add one thing more.

I have podcasted some and boy-howdy, I have fucked up an interview here and there.  I have fucked an interview so badly that we had to just throw out the footage.  I have fucked up an interview so badly that Clyde e-mailed me, frustrated, saying that now he had to interview John Wick so that someone could do it properly and get the good stuff out of him, the stuff we had missed, had skirted right around.

And I like that.  I like that process of talking to people, trying to provoke and inspire and discuss in a way that makes our little sub-cultural niche of a niche is a better place.  And I think Kevin did that here.  He and Ron talked about cool shit and interesting stuff was said.

Bringing out this kind of response in me, bringing out this thread, is part of the juice. 


(Holy gods, difficult to hear over the background noise on the recs.)

But re: feminism and underground comics and the confusion interjected into that whole discussion by the Moral Majority. The first thing I thought of where you were thinking of comics was the modern analogue of "fan fiction".

As an outsider to the scene who knows people heavily involved in it: it is majority-populated by female authors, with much of the subject heavily and blatantly sexual (and often in very non-conventional and even sometimes disturbing ways), who are often mothers, professionals, and others generally considered to be community pillars (writing under pseudonyms). Which seems to parallel the old underground comics community in terms of "who" and "doing what".

But that confusion that was introduced by the 80's/90's culture over what being a feminist/woman is has been inherited by that group such that you have these women writing fiction about often intensely sexual situations, and who are also very pro-female empowerment, some of whom are weirdly and incredibly opposed to nudity, pornography, fetishism, and other "anti-feminist" things.

To really explain just how deep this confusion runs, it is such that there are spats and fights between various authors/groups because one will proclaim something far too "squicky" or "traumatic" to be allowed in decent company, and saying such straight-faced while having written fics involving gang rape (or whatever). Or those who stand up for a woman's right to not be treated like a sexual object, while writing stories that treat women (or often men) as sexual objects, and defending those.

It's very...weird. Very confused. Very much a "we're all feminists here, but you're doing it wrong" sort-of behavior that I think relates back to those same vicious battles between feminist groups from the 80's. (And, perhaps tangential or pertinent, but the same sort of cultural-identity confusion you find in many activist groups today, that seems an inheritance from bedding down with the Moral Majority during that same period.)
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Joe Murphy (Broin)

The discussion in the first part about underground comix, the Moral Majority, and terrors like Dworkin and whatnot was pretty interesting. I didn't realise how much of that period affected me, way over here in Ireland.

As we more or less share the language, almost all our gaming comes from the US and UK. There are a handful of Irish RPGs, and they mimicked American games for the most part - a couple of X-Files inspired games in the 90s, mostly. The UK had a stronger voice during the 90s, but still mirrored a lot of the same US topics. Our geographically close but linguistically different neighbours in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Scandinavia weren't so much of an influence. And when you lost sex+death, we lost sex+death too.

During the podcast, I got to thinking about how much the US influenced my gaming in much the same way I've been fed American movies and novels all my life. The themes that came up again and again in games like Shadowrun or Vampire were very American themes of freedom and manifest destiny, and the US has become almost a mythical sandbox for gamers here. (Probably because you have guns). At least in cinema and comics, we had some influence from the continent, but I don't know that gaming received that energy.

I've read a little about jeepform and how Scandinavian it is, and a little Japanese gaming through Ewen Cluney's podcast, but I don't know much at all about other non-English speaking gaming cultures. And I wonder if we missed out on a gaming equivalent to Jean de Florette's cinematic influence.


Ron Edwards

Hi Joe,

That brings up a whole salad of responses for me. One of them is to follow up on my first post, when I mentioned that in the interview, I hadn't succeeded in bringing my (admittedly long and lecture-y) points about feminism's history back to the point of Trollbabe. Basically, I'm interested in power that might be called "female." If you have it, then what do you do with it? Beyond the struggle for it, what's it for? What does a woman do if she is unequivocally powerful, and not in the sense of being in any way identifiable as tapping into or relying upon maleness? (Here I'm discussing gender in the sense of social construction at least as much, and probably more, than in the sense of anatomy and very general behavior patterns.) I'm especially interested in when and how a relationship becomes valuable as an exploitable resource, and when you do or do not so exploit it.

Or to put it differently, I'm interested in the genuine questions of feminism in its first actual flush of political power, before it was (as I see it) co-opted by the right wing and diverted/muted into identity politics. Please don't misunderstand me to say that Trollbabe is a clinical or analytical dissection of these issues. It's probably the single most non-verbal, visceral creative work I've ever done. What I'm describing here is what I realized or reflected upon after having written it and enjoyed playing it so much.

That's what I'd hoped to get to in the interview but we didn't make it there.

Here's another response, which I'm not sure I can do much with ... strangely, given the stereotypes of Irish culture and Irish-American culture in the States, the ethnicity is often utilized as an opportunity in film or literature to investigate reflexive or semi-pathologized violence. The Irish are supposed to be scrappers and pugs, always ready for a fight. So if you guys are taking the opportunity to enact or fantasize above personal violence by using the U.S. setting, then I should at least reveal that for a century, U.S. literature and film has been doing precisely the same by using Irish characters and to some extent the Irish setting, Boondock Saints being only one of the literally thousands of examples.

And another: I completely agree with you regarding U.S. role-playing's cultural hegemony, with the U.K. being a strong and probably the only second, and I don't think it's a good thing. I have been amply exposed to the German experience of beginning their hobby with AD&D2, as quickly interpreted and essentially re-presented as Das Schwarze Auge: issues of Social Contract, expectations for presentation, and on and on.* In the U.S., AD&D2 was a prominent feature of the role-playing subculture, but certainly only one of a number of heavy hitters including GURPS, Champions, and RuneQuest at the least.

The Swedes and associated areas have more of their own footprint, I think, even before the current jeepform thing, to the extent that unique features of their 1980s games fed back into U.S. design and publishing pretty strongly. Obviously, Kult is a big player here, but also The Mutant Chronicles and others. I'm a little surprised that French design hasn't had more of an impact - maybe it would have if In Nomine Satanas/Magnas Veritas had simply been translated instead of genericized into In Nomine.

I do think we, in the sense of role-players everywhere, are badly missing out on what could be powerful and seminal influences and transformations of both play and design, because of this overly one-way English-speaking-to-everyone-else situation.

Best, Ron

* In German, "black eye" doesn't mean the injury as it does in English. Think of "black" in its fantasy-SF cool sense, like Black Tower or Black Nebula, and then apply that to "eye" - it's actually a seriously bad-ass title. The English transliterative equivalent, "Dark Eye," is very flabby in comparison, sadly. Anyway, I bring all this up only to contrast the awesome title with what was and is, and with apologies to the cultural love many Germans have for it, a pretty rotten game which managed to combine everything wrong with AD&D2 with everything wrong with Rolemaster.

Gregor Hutton

Hi Ron

I want to hear how you'd liked to have responded to the Scientiology question.

Ron Edwards

Hi Gregor,

Upon listening to the interview, it turns out that I did in fact accomplish my immediate goal in responding to that - which was to see whether Kevin had any substantive reason to use that organization as the direct analogy for the Forge booth. I wanted to give him room to provide that reason, which it turned out he didn't have, but also to introduce my complete disavowal from any such thing, as I saw it from my side of the table. I fully embrace the fact that the Forge booth is a recruiting culture, but it is not predatory, financially or otherwise. Nor does it focus on a belief system; the recruitment is to get people (a) trying games they might like and (b) considering publishing their own games themselves. The only thing I slightly regret not saying was being clear about how utterly vile Scientology is.

Best, Ron

The Dragon Master

The bit in part 2, where you were talking about the game you'd run for them, when you talked about the excitement (THIS thing, with THESE people, in THIS way). I'd not thought of it before, but I really have been fighting that for years. At the absolute best I've been hitting two out of three. I'll find a group I like, but can't stand the game system (in the big sense), or I'll find a topic and  a system I like, but can't stand more than half the people there. The way you worded it just helped it click for me in a way it hasn't before. It's also helped me to see that some instances in which I thought I was hitting two out of three, I was really only hitting one, because the very natures of the people I was playing with was opposed to a method which I found fun.

I was also wondering. I've only come to the hobby in the last three years, but I've thumbed through the books for Classic Traveller and your comment about the base assumptions of early RPGs (that sessions were assumed to be a snapshot within a larger wargame) doesn't seem to jive with what I'm reading in those books. I know that the Wargame variation on Traveller came out about a decade after the boxed set, and I'm having trouble seeing how this game fits into the assumptions you say were there. To be clear, you were there, I wasn't, but I was hoping you might shed more light on that assumption of play, and how Traveller fits into the mix there.
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